The Nervous Return - Wake Up Dead (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The Nervous Return

Wake Up Dead (2004)

Atlantic / LaSalle

I'm sure that by this point in everyone's lives, at least once they've heard somebody use the phrase "shit-eating grin." This is used to describe those people, and we all know them, that have an undeniable smirk across their face at all times, one that you'd love to pimp-slap right off. For example, "I'd love to smack the shit-eating grin off Tom Cruise's face, he doesn't deserve to be nailing Katie Holmes." Shit-eating grins also go hand in hand with pink polo shirts, popped collars, and you guessed it, popped collars on pink polo shirts. It's that dumb look that I get a vision of in my head when I listen to the Nervous Return. Singer Jason Muller's vocal styling exudes a real swagger, like you'd almost entirely expect to see him strutting on stage during a show. Pink polo shirt-hating aside, Wake Up Dead proliferates a certain punk rock know-how and a penchant for new wave rhythms.

Sounds like an obnoxious combination, but the schizophrenic nature of these songs make for some interesting musical dynamics. Between dissonant riffing and catchy melodies, the songs have a sugary nature to them, but also have a fair bit of grit as well. While those respective elements are nothing to jump all over on their own, their mixture provides equal parts creativity and diversity. Though despite the diversity here, nothing is out of the low-mid tempo range.

"Siberian Queer" has a compelling rhythm, with fuzzy guitars and a repetitious back-and-forth drumming pattern, along with a great shout-along chorus that fits tightly into the groove. The lyrics have some bite to them as well, and they're integrated well into the nature of the music they're a part of, but they‘re ultimately very hit and miss; "Think you're so normal, playing with yourself / Under your breath you whisper, ‘Tom Cruise, I Want You' / Repress yourself into depression / You psychotic mister homoerotic mustache storm trooper." That's one mustache ride that I will not be taking, as their attempt at satire comes off more weird and deranged than the cleverness it looks like they were going for. Aside from a few choice misfires, the rest of what you'll find on this record is above par.

The pacing of the songs here is pretty solid, if you're not looking to be lulled into relaxation or blow away by sheer intensity, because that's really not what this band is about. This band is about attitude, and there's plenty of it.

In "Dramahead," the bass and guitar intertwine to put a solid groove behind singer Muller's swaggering. The vocals are never too much for the music that backs them, as they seem more reserved than anything else save some of the shout-alongs later in the record. I have my doubts that anyone in this band owns a pink polo shirt, and I have my doubts that any of them pop their collars, opting instead for a solid attitude and a dissonance-driven punk rock effort. Now that that's out of the way, seriously, who wants a mustache ride?